Alexander Hamilton Papers
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The War in Europe, [September–December 1796]

The War in Europe

[September–December, 1796]

Every step of the progress of the present war in Europe has been marked with horrors. If the perpetration of them was confined to those who are the acknowleged instruments of despotic Power, it would excite less surprize—but when they are acted by those who profess themselves to be the Champions of the rights of man, they naturally occasion both wonder and regret. Passing by the extreme severities which the French have exercised in Italy, what shall we think of the following declaration of Jourdan to the inhabitants of Germany1

Good God! is it then a crime for men to defend their own Government and Country? Is it a punishable offence in the Germans that they will not accept from the French what they offer as liberty, at the point of the bayonet? This is to confound all ideas of morality and humanity; it is to trample upon all the rights of man and nations. It is to restore the ages of Barbarism. According to the laws and practice of modern war, the peasantry of a Country, if they remain peaceably at home, are protected from other harm than a contribution to the necessities of the invading army. Those who join the armies of their Country and fight with them are considered and treated as other soldiers. But the present French Doctrine is, that they are to be treated as Rebels and Criminals. German patriotism is a heinous offence in the eyes of French Patriots. How are we to solve this otherwise than by observing that the French are influenced by the same spirit of Domination which governed the antient Romans! These considered themselves as having a right to be the Masters of the World and to treat the rest of mankind as their vassals.

How clearly is it proved ⟨by⟩ all ⟨–⟩ that the praise of a ⟨–⟩ world is justly due to Christianity. War, by the influence of the humane principles of that Religion, had been stripped of half its terrors. The French renounce christianity & they relapse into Barbarism. War resumes the same hideous and savage form, which it wore in the ages of Roman and Gothic Violence.

AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This is a reference to a proclamation made by General Jean Baptiste Jourdan to the inhabitants of the country beyond the Rhine, July 4, 1796. The proclamation reads: “The repeated victories of the armies of the French Republic, the cry of the nations exhausted by a war, which brings with it only ruin and desolation, the voice of humanity, which incessantly exclaims, that it is time to dry up the streams of blood which inundate your fields, have not yet moved the hearts of your sovereigns to solicit a peace which may restore tranquillity and happiness to Europe. Since, then, blood must continue to flow, the French armies must carry the war into the heart of Germany. But fear not, peaceable inhabitants of these unhappy countries, we are not your enemies, we mean not to destroy your laws or your religion, as some falsely endeavour to persuade you. The presence of the armies will undoubtedly cause you to suffer some inconveniences; but imagine not that we mean to avenge upon you the cruelties which the people of France suffered when that country was made the theatre of war. Your property shall not be plundered, nor your houses reduced to ashes. Take no part in the contest, remain peaceably in your houses, and you and your property shall be protected by the generals of the Republic. But should you take arms, you must expect the severest punishment, and to be made a terrible example.

“A regulation, consisting of seven articles, is annexed, which orders the French troops to observe the strictest discipline. Every soldier who shall plunder any of the inhabitants shall be put to death. The inhabitants, however, must remain quiet in their houses, and deliver up their arms: if they are taken flying with their effects or cattle, they will be arrested, and their property confiscated for the use of the Republic. The inhabitants of the villages, who shall take arms against the French, shall be shot, and their houses burnt, as shall likewise all who bear arms without permission from the French generals.” (Debrett, A Collection of State Papers description begins John Debrett, A Collection of State Papers, Relative to the War against France Now carrying on by Great-Britain and the several other European Powers, Containing Authentic Copies of Treaties, Conventions, Proclamations, Manifestoes, Declarations, Memorials, Remonstrances, Official Letters, Parliamentary Papers, London Gazette Accounts of the War, &c. &c. &c. Many of which have never before been published in England (London: Printed for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly, 1794–1797). description ends , V, 45–46.)

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